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Wande Abimbola

Wande Abimbola occupies the position of Awise Awo Ni Agbaye, "spokesperson and ambassador for the Yorb religion and culture in the world." This is a position he was chosen to fill in 1987 by the assembled elder babalwos of Nigeria. Formerly President of the University of If and then Leader of the Nigerian Senate, he has devoted his life since the dissolution of the Senate to If, the Yorb system of divination, and to his role as Awise, spokesperson and ambassador.

Dr. Abimbola has taught extensively in the US, including at Boston University, Harvard, and Colgate. He has gives courses in If and Yorb religion & culture at selected locations in the US, principally Boston.. 

As the President of the University of If, Dr. Abimbola was the first senior Yorb official to travel to Cuba and has since been there on several occasions as part of his role as ambassador for Yorb culture and religion. He helped pave the way for the 1987 state visit to Cuba of the Oni of If, one of the Yorbs' two principal kings, the other being the Alfin of y.

On Cuba and If in Dr. Abimbola's "If will mend our broken world"

Dr. Abimbola's book, "If will mend our broken world," is extraordinarily rich in information and contains a great deal on Cuba, including a section analyzing various Cuban Yorb terms. The book consists of a series of interviews with Dr. Ivor Miller, who is also well informed on life in Cuba. Cubans may disagree with some of the contents but it represents a critical step in the very important dialog between African Cubans and folks in the motherland. 


Some extracts from "If will mend our broken world"

Here are some extracts taken at random from the over 185 pages of this wonderful book. Each has a header made up here to describe the extract:


To some extent, I believe that the things people call syncretism are not syncretic at all. When a babalwo tells stories of the Od in Cuba, he doesn't mix it with stories from the Bible. What is called syncretism has mainly to do with the icons of the rs, and this is sometimes just a way of saluting the divinity of a neighbor or of a master. In Brazil, when you enter the Candombl, the first figure that you see is called Caboclo. He represents the spirits of the ancestors of the Amerindians, the native people of the place. This is not "syncretism," it is a way of saying "We are here, we are strangers, but these people have been here before us, why not put some of their icons in our shrine as a sign of respect?" If it were truly syncretic, then the other levels, not just the outward and visual levels, will be affected. There is the level of ritual, where there may be a little bit of mixture there too. But you don't fund mixture in the liturgy and the thought system, the philosophy behind the religion. The literature is not mixed. I therefore conclude that if this mixture of symbols adds up to syncretism, the "syncretism" is skin deep, it is not much more than that.

The spread of the Yorb to the new world

In the late 1790s, Awl was the Alfin or Emperor of Old y before it was evacuated. Awl sent his army to go and capture a town, but they rebelled against him. He knew the importance of having a strong army under a centralized government like the Old y empire to protect his people. He used to send his army out to fight and toughen them up, so they'd be battle ready at any time.

Awl knew the slave trade was global, that Africans had been taken away everywhere, and had protected the Yorb people with that same army. When the army failed to obey him, he cursed them and all the Yorb people by saying, "If you do not obey me or my authority as your emperor anymore, well, when Old y is destroyed, and there is no army, the Yorb people will be taken as slaves all over the Earth." That is what actually happened. When he uttered his curse, he fired an arrow to the north, east, and west, and smashed a piece of china containing medicine on the ground. He said, "Just as nobody mends broken china, nobody will be able to reverse my curse on the Yorb people." After uttering the curse he committed suicide. That is what we call "gn Awl." gn is an almost irreversible "curse." Many people believe that the curse which Awl uttered against the Yorb people is still affecting our nation.

Greeting Shango

Ivor: One of Cuba's most popular Orish, Shang is greeted in ceremony with "Kabo, kabei sile," often translated as, "Welcome to the king!" This chant is even heard in Cuban popular music, such as the 1940s composition "Cabio Sile Yeyo," performed by Cuba's renowned trumpeter Flix Chappotn. How do you translate this phrase?

Wande: When we mention the name of Sng we often say, "Kw k b sl, kr w w w." The latter is an imitation of the sound of thunder. "Kbsl: comes from "K bi s nl," which means "to ask him any questions does not exist." This refers to the absolute authority of Sng when he was Emperor of Old y.

Inle and Erinl

Ivor Miller (interviewer): Inle is a Cuban Orish known as a divine medic. What are Inle's properties in Nigeria, and how is he different from san-n?

Wande: The complete form of the word is Erinl. The literal translation of this word is "land elephant." He is an rs of lob. In our thought system, he is a medicine man alright, but he is more of a hunter. He is called Ode dd, the black hunter. Erinl is a river today which is a tributary of sun river. It is not a very long river. [Here follows much lore on Erinl.]

Cuban chauvinism

Ivor: It is common to hear Cuban babalwo say that Yorb culture is stronger in Cuba than in Yorubaland. Some even say that they speak a form of "old" Yorb, no longer spoken in Africa, and that Nigerians have traveled to Cuba to become babalwo, because the Christianization of Nigeria has destroyed the religion. What does this tell you about Cuba?

Wande: This is a common view in Cuba because many people have not been to Africa and they are ignorant of the subject.


Ivor: In Cuba one often sees competition among padrinos for godchildren.

Wande: We don't have "houses" like that in Africa. This may be useful here in the Americas because of the breakdown of the family, it is performing a useful function. Our own families are still very much intact in Africa, in fact waxing stronger. If our society becomes more industrialized and people leave their home to work in distant places, the situation may change.

Homosexuality in the religion

Ivor: The babalwo of Cuba have a taboo against initiating a homosexual man as an If diviner. Is this taboo found in Yorubaland?

Wande: To start with, homosexuality was never a part of our traditional culture; but it could be found today in some urban areas , such as Lagos. A babalwo must not impose his way of life on anyone. Who are we to probe into the personal life of another person? If a person wants to impose a his or her own lifestyle, one might distance oneself from that person, but whether he is a homosexual or heterosexual, we may not even know. If we have a rule about this, we have to probe every person's private life. Supposing they don't even tell us the truth then we may not succeed!

On secrecy concerning the religion in Cuba and Africa

Ivor: Throughout 20th century Cuba, each time an initiate of an African-derived religion composed a popular song or wrote a book about issues intimate to their secret society, they were condemned by conservatives. Were you ever criticized for publicizing If traditions?

Wande: Not at all. I went there to talk about If, and chant verses of If. It was considered a good campaign for the religion. In Africa, we don't regard songs of If, or speaking about If as secret. Anybody can train to be an If priest if he is so selected by If, and if he is interested. There is nothing secret about it. A stranger can watch as a babalwo teaches his students.

The role of whites in the religion

Some people feel that they don't want to see any white men in this religion. But we keep reminding them that, to start with, white are there already via Cuba and Brazil, from where the religion came here in the first instance! There are many white Cuban babalwo who live in the United States. When people say, "You should not initiate white people," the point is that if you don't initiate them, there will be somebody else who will initiate them. Secondly, I do not subscribe to any doctrine of perpetuation of hate or retaliation. Certainly the religion of the Yorb is not the best tool for that.

Women leaders

Ivor: Before Mae Estella [a woman Candombl leader in Brazil, said to hold great power and social position] there were other women who held the same title she now does. Is this power based solely on knowledge or is gender also an issue?

Wande: Her power is based on knowledge. It seems that it is the women folk who are taking the time to study, who are setting up big houses. I don't think it is the case that a man cannot lead an rs society. You see have the same thing developing in the United States. Most of the houses that are coming up in the United States are led by women. This is a reflection of what we see in the larger society, where women seem to play such an important role in the rearing of children. The role of Black American women in their communities and families since slavery has been very large.

Obtaining "If will mend our broken world" by Wande Abimbola (updated 10/9/13)top

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Other books by Wande Abimbola

Ifa : An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus
by Wande Abimbda, Wande Abimbola
List Price: $24.95
Our Price: $19.96                                        

Availability: Usually ships within 24 hours.                    Click here to buy ==>

Paperback - 260 pages 2nd Rep edition (July 1997)

Athelia Henrietta Pr; ISBN: 1890157007 ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.63 x 9.01 x 6.03
Ifa Divination Poetry (Traditional African Literature)
by Wande Abimbola (Editor)

ASIN: 0883570238                              Click here to initiate search ==>
Availability: This title is out of print. Although it is no longer available from the publisher, we'll query our network of used bookstores for you and send an update within one to two weeks.


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